Questions about Jordan Howard’s future with the Bears lingered on Thursday, when ESPN reported that multiple teams checked on the running back’s availability during last week’s NFL Scouting Combine.
Interest in Howard isn’t new; trade rumors have swirled around him for the past year. When Matt Nagy took over as head coach last year, many wondered how Howard would fit in his system. Howard did little to dispel such questions last season, when he ran for a career-low 935 yards on 250 carries. In 2016, by contrast, he gained 1,313 yards on only two more rushes.
Howard, though, has been the Bears’ leading rusher in each of his last three seasons. He finished the season stronger than he started it, posting his only two 100-plus yard rushing games in the last four games of the Bears’ regular season.
The Bears would probably be wise to wait until the start of the league year next week before considering a move. By then, they’ll have a gauge on which teams missed out on premier free-agent running backs. Plus, they’ll know which ones would be available to them. Moving Howard would make little sense without adding someone to take his place. Howard likely wouldn’t bring back more than a fifth-round pick.
Even if the Bears sign a free agent or draft a running back, they could simply keep Howard, who has one more year on his rookie deal.
At the combine last week, Nagy — who does not lean on bell-cow backs — described his vision of a college rusher that fits his system. It didn’t seem to fit Howard, who caught only 20 passes on 27 targets for 145 yards last season.
“When you’re dealing with running backs, in this offense, you want to be able to have a guy that has really good vision that can make guys miss,” Nagy said. “And at the same time, there’s that balance of being a hybrid, being able to make things happen in the passing game, too, where you’re not one-dimensional. That’s not easy.”